Isa Genzken

German sculptor

Isa Genzken (born 27 November 1948) is a contemporary artist who lives and works in Berlin. Her primary media are sculpture and installation, using a wide variety of materials, including concrete, plaster, wood and textile. She also works with photography, video, film and collage.

photo of Isa Genzken during the opening of her exhibition 'Sesame Open!', at Museum Ludwig, 14 August 2009

Quotes of Isa Genzken

sorted chronologically, by date of the quotes of Isa Genzken
Isa Genzken, c. 1992: 'Spiegel / Mirror', steel sculpture near Bielefeld city hall; - quote of Isa Genzken, 1990 (title of her show): 'Everyone Needs at Least One Window'
Isa Genzken, 1993: 'Fenster / Window', metallic sculpture
Isa Genzken, 1994: 'Die Rose / Rose', metallic sculpture, Leipzig
Isa Genzken, 1994: 'X', steel and concrete sculpture, Munich

1990 - 2000

  • One curve corresponds to the curvature of Mars on a scale of 1:1000, another curve to Venus on a scale of 1:40.000 [named after the Roman Gods of Love and War, probably alluding to her starting romance with Gerhard Richter ]
    • Quote of Genzken in: 'Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting', by Dietmar Elger, University of Chicago Press 2009, p. 252
    • concept-text in 1980, for the commissioned decoration - together with Gerhard Richter - of the the multilevel U-bahn (subway) At König-Heinrich-Platz in Duisburg
  • 'Everyone Needs at Least One Window'
    • title of her show 'Fenster', 1990
  • I always wanted to have the courage to do totally crazy, impossible, and also wrong things.
    • Quote of Isa Genzken, 1994; as cited on the website of Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam: exhibition Isa Genzken: Mach dich Hübsch! 11-2015 - 03-2016.

2001 - 2010


'Isa Genzken in conversation with Wolfgang Tillmans' (2003)

Quotes from: 'Isa Genzken in conversation with Wolfgang Tillmans', (translation: Richard Watts). First published in: Camera Austria, No. 81/2003, pp. 7–18. Published by courtesy of Camera Austria.
  • I was twenty-one when I first went to New York, and I was so fascinated by the architecture and glad that something like that existed and that I was able to have this visual experience that I thought to myself, this is where I want to live. To me, New York had a direct link with sculpture – that must have been it. Although at twenty-one I wasn't a sculptress yet, I was just starting my studies and I didn't even know what I wanted to do.. .New York is a city of incredible stability and solidity. And then the height of the buildings – that impressed me, like the people who always seemed a bit happier than the Germans in the street. When I came back to Germany it seemed to me that it wasn't particularly nice, my visual surroundings – it was all so dreary. And modernism hardly features at all in Germany. Okay, there was Bauhaus and there was this and that, but modernism is practically non-existent in architecture.
  • Well, at first I wanted to put blinds on the building [of the outdoor-sculpture Josef Strau did for her recently]. But when I do something I've already done before, I sometimes have a certain feeling of uncertainty. Although I am falling back on something that I know is safe and pretty good. But then it was all too expensive. I had seen glowing green, fresh bamboo at the KaDeWe store. It had attracted my attention and I thought it would be nice to do something with it. Back home, sitting over the photo, drawing some things on it, I remembered this lovely green bamboo again and also that there was this fascist building – or partly fascist building – next to the store, a theater, an ugly building. And then I thought, bamboo is politically correct, that's just the thing. But I also think it's visually beautiful. Simple. The work is called 'Haare wachsen wie sie wollen' ('Hair grows the way it wants')
  • I think that photography has a lot to do with sculpture – because it is three-dimensional and because it depicts reality. For example, I have always been able to relate to photography more than to painting. When I was photographing the hi-fi adverts ['Hi-Fi-Serie' (1979)] I thought to myself, everyone has one of these towers at home. It's the latest thing, the most modern equipment available. So a sculpture must be at least as modern and must stand up to it. Then I hung the pictures on the wall and put an ellipsoid on the floor and thought, the ellipsoid must be at least as good as this advert. At least as good. That's how good a modern sculpture has to be. Do you see what I mean? That was the dialogue...
  • I have always said that, with any sculpture, you have to be able to say, 'although this is not a ready-made, it could be one'. That's what a sculpture has to look like. It must have a certain relation to reality. I mean, not airy-fairy, let alone fabricated, so aloof and polite.. .And I don't see this aspect in many artists' work. Often, my feeling is that they think something up that is supposed to be art. That's not what I want at all. Rather, a sculpture is really a photo – although it can be shifted, it must still always have an aspect that reality has too.
  • Something that bothers me with some of my students is that their works are so cold towards the viewer. I have always told the students that they have to imagine how the viewer sees something, too. You've got to put yourself in the viewer's shoes when you do something. That's important to me. It may be complicated, but it's important to me. Otherwise I find it too cold or too arrogant.
  • Yes. Basically, I can read your photography [of Wolfgang Tillmans, who is interviewing her] and see what moves you. What really moves you and not just faked emotion. I don't think it's good when it's like that in art – but unfortunately it often is. That's why I like Bruce Nauman, for example, as a sculptor. With his work, sometimes I have really thought to myself, that's simply beautiful.. .Above all, it is difficult enough to depict something that moves you deep down inside. But that's ultimately what art is all about, and that's also what appeals to people – if an artist can do it.
  • I photographed the ears. Something organic. Something from the inside out. Coming from the head. I did this ear series in New York ['Ohr' (Ear). c. 1980] and I asked people, women, on the street if I could photograph their ear. Not a single woman said no. Because I didn't ask for their face, but for something largely anonymous.. ..just women on the street.. .It only took a moment. The women always said, what, my ear? Sure! But I never offended anyone by examining them. It was just the ear. And everyone thought that was great. That was a nice experience. For me as a photographer, too. Of course, I did work with some light and hair shining in the sun.. .I tried to make the situation nice for the ear.
  • I had just had an operation, I was totally bored and so I just took my camera and took some pictures of myself. Out of boredom. I only realised afterwards that this work was something special. Taking photos in the clinic and publishing them in a catalogue.. suddenly took on a kind of seriousness. Everyone's scared of clinics, and no-one wants to see what a clinic looks like from the inside. Well not really. And everyone's a bit scared of having to go there themselves. And there I was in there. And I stand by it. And I used the clinic as a studio and started taking photos. And then I felt better. Just because it let me do something.
  • Well, and the 'X-rays' [X-Ray, 1991, black and white photograph].. .I was just interested in seeing what it looks like inside my head – and the idea that they could just examine the inside of my head like a globe. And then I photographed the facades in New York. [at the end of the 19-nineties].. .I did the books at the end of the nineties, and I did the facades shortly after that.
  • Because I'm a person who always has to do something. If I cannot do anything, I'm in a very bad way. But really I'm always working on something. And I always want to work, too. Well, the few artists I know really well, they are all so.. .It's a really bad block when you think, right, now I've got to do art. It really is very important to learn that that is not the most important thing.

'Out to Lunch with Isa Genzken' (2009)

Quotes from: 'Out to Lunch with Isa Genzken', interview by Simon Denny, while walking together over Isa Genzken's show 'Wind', 2009, Courtesy: Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin, later published on Mousse Magazine and Publishing
  • see they hung my painting here [on her show 'Wind', 2009] I did that in the early 1990s. People never really liked them so much back then, they thought they looked more like photographs. Actually, I was doing them when I was still married to Gerhard Richter [till 1993], and it was somehow in relation to what he was doing, you know, these kind of side-to-side gestural abstracts – done like this [gestures as if pulling a squeegee over a surface from one side to the other] like paintings of the 1950s. Mine were called 'Basic Research', they were rubbings of oil paint on canvas – frottages of the floor of my studio. I did quite a few of these. [[w:Gerhard] Richter|[Gerhard] Richter]] put one up in his studio for some time.. .But he found it too hard and then took it out after a while.
  • they [her two shows in 2009] are so different, and actually it was a lot of work to make those two shows – I have never done that, two shows simultaneously. I worked on them for a whole year. It was very hard, because I was trying to get this balance between minimalism and something else beyond that – in dialogue with Minimalism, but with content. That was always the thing with minimalism, there was no content allowed of course, but only the thing in the space, that was what Sol LeWitt was always about, and Carl Andre – it was all about avoiding content. I was always very interested in this, right from the beginning, especially with my 'Ellipsoids' [she made 1981 - 1983]. They look like minimalism, but in the end there is a lot going on there.
  • Each one of those ['Ellipsoids'] took at least three months [each]. I was starting those, when I was still at the Düsseldorf Academy. There was a very nice man in the workshop there who was very helpful in the process of making them. And they were extremely complicated – to get the shape right and everything. I mean one could get them sent to a factory, and have them produced according to these computer drawings, but somehow I didn’t really want to do this at the time – and also I did not have the money to do that anyway. Once I tried to have one fabricated in this way, but when it came back there was nothing there somehow. It was not like the ones that were made in the workshop
  • There was a lot of revision that went into [making] the [Wind] sculptures, [c. 2009 - meant as her response to the death of Michael Jackson which she admired]. It might look like I just went in the gallery and they just went up – just like that – but it was not like that. It was really a long process to get the things to look the way they do, to have that balance especially in relation to what I already said about minimalism, and to also have this light touch to them.
  • Another difficult thing that I experience is when after such a year of activity I have to empty my studio – completely. And I have found that this part only gets harder. You might think it gets easier, but I really just find it gets harder.
  • You know that I don't give interviews much? There were just a few – with Lawrence Weiner, with Danny MacDonald that I published with in the 'I Love New York, Crazy City book' – do you know this one? And also the 2005 interview with Wolfgang Tillmans for 'Artforum' – that was one I particularly enjoyed. I was always a bit scared to do an interview, especially with Lawrence Weiner, I mean, he is just so articulate – he can really speak about the work so well! And did you see this interview I did with Kai Althoff – 'Why I don’t do interviews?'
  • The show is called 'Wind'. I tried here to make work which looks like wind, and it is the most difficult thing to do; I was thinking of Leonardo da Vinci – as he was, for instance, always wanting to fly. And then, this hand of Michael Jackson is like 'ffffffff', 'I'm leaving' (makes gesture with her hand and mouth in the mirror in the hallway of the gallery, mimicking the action that Jackson is depicted making on the invitation card of her show - Simon Denny). Not in a sad way, but.. a way a little bit sad too. And then I said 'Isa Genzken', because I always liked him so much. For instance, I would always have jackets like this one. This is my favourite kind of style, and so I said 'ffff' [blowing gesture] 'Now I'm coming'.. .It's like 'don't be afraid, don't be sad, you know.. .I'm here.'
  • It [the first work in her show 'Wind'] is dedicated to Jasper Johns – I named it 'Homage à Jasper Johns'. As he basically did these 'flags', I mean he is so famous because of 'flags', and I was thinking of a flag too, and so I did this, so I was thinking of him because he's so incredibly famous and I'm not. [both laugh].
  • I tell you, wind is the most difficult thing to put into an object.. it's a bit more in this next sculpture [on Michael Jackson]

after 2010


'No, It Isn't Supposed to Be Easy' (2013)

Quotes of Isa Genzken, from: 'No, It Isn't Supposed to Be Easy' (2013), by Randy Kennedy, 'The New York Times', 24 November, 2013
  • I like to work alone, because it irritates me if people say something stupid — I just can’t stand it.. .I have a Polish guy who comes in and cleans the studio, but pretty much no one else. [talking over a cappuccino, at the Museum of Modern Art New York, during her show there in 2013]
  • She [Isa's mother] called up Lufthansa and said, 'I have this daughter, you see, and she needs airplane windows,' she said. That's how she did it.
    • Isa Genzken's mother, who was in her 90s, helped her in obtaining a section of jetliner window panels for an artwork Isa wanted to make: a series of cut-out airplane windows
  • I was so disappointed at first [visiting the pyramids in Egypt, in her 20s], because they looked so small, but then when you approached them, they got so big. It's an amazing effect.

'Isa Genzken, the artist who doesn't do interviews' (2014)

Quotes from: 'Isa Genzken, the artist who doesn't do interviews' interview by Emily Wasik, 15 May 2014
  • Well, I knew I was an artist the moment I woke up in my mother's belly and, as an artist, I shouldn't have to give interviews.. some parts of the world, you get scrutinized for saying the wrong thing about art and in other regions, you get scrutinized for saying nothing at all.
  • One time I even said to him [ Joseph Beuys ], 'Architecture is a catastrophe in Germany; we've got to change that.' And he told me, 'Go ahead, you can always sign for me if you ever need to.' I've never taken him up on the offer, though!
  • Because it's exactly this kind of role reversal that I'm interested in, and then it actually makes it a challenge for the viewer. Also, because most artists work in a completely different way.
    • Emily Wasik asked Isa here: You once said in an interview, 'I want to animate the viewers, hold a mirror up to them.' Why do you believe it's important to put yourself [as an artist] in the viewer's shoes and create art that transforms them?
  • Yes, throughout our marriage [with Gerhard Richter during 1982 - 1993], we influenced each other mutually. We didn't have a student-teacher kind of relationship.
  • For me personally, the greatest art to date has been created in New York and the most uptight and conventional art in Berlin. Obviously, I am an exception to this rule! [living and working in Berlin]
  • Considering that Beuys was born in a small German town called Kleve and I was born in another small German town called Bad Oldesloe, I believe that even an airport can be an inspiring place for an artist. A Nobel Prize laureate once said something along the lines of, 'The more one travels, the more intelligent one becomes,' however, I think that you can still travel a lot and remain sheltered.
  • Personally, I don't believe in having expectations, but I can say that, regarding my exterior sculptures, I will only exhibit sculptures in the future that will enrich their surroundings.
  • Artists should not look to the left or the right. Art should be strong and nonconformist—and most importantly, art should always be personal.

Quotes about Isa Genzken

sorted chronologically, by date of the quotes about Isa Genzken
  • Like Baudelaire said of Honoré Daumier in 'The Painter of Modern Life', Isa is the artist of modern life seeing her time and transcending it simultaneously, with no separation.. .It is radical, not easy to do.
    • Quote of Elizabeth Peyton, in an email: as quoted in 'No, It Isn't Supposed to Be Easy' (2013), by Randy Kennedy, 'The New York Times', 24 November, 2013
  • It is as though she wakes up every morning, or every month or so, and decides who she will become.
    • Quote of Colm Toibin, as quoted in 'No, It Isn't Supposed to Be Easy' (2013), by Randy Kennedy, 'The New York Times', 24 November, 2013
  • My last wife was very competitive, which was hard for both of us.
    • Quote of Gerhard Richter (2002), in 'Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms', Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times Magazine, January 27 2002
    • Richter met Isa Genzken in the mid-1970s when she became student at the art academy in Dusseldorf, where he was teaching; they married in 1982 and broke up in 1993.
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